Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Theme Time: Elvis Costello - Scully

The death of Tony Haygarth reminded me to blog about Scully today.


King of the scallies, Franny Scully remains scouse playwright Alan Bleasdale's most enduring character. Initially created to entertain the kids he was teaching, Bleasdale realised he was on to something and began to write the character's (mis)adventures in series of short stories which he submitted to BBC Radio Merseyside. The station loved them, and Bleasdale was subsequently invited to read them on air. From there, a Scully story was read out on the BBC2 arts series 2nd House, before he became a stage play, the subject of two novels, a recurring character in the Saturday morning kids TV show and regional TISWAS replacement The Mersey Pirate, the subject of a BBC Play For Today (Scully's New Year) and finally, a full length Granada TV series for Channel 4 in 1984.


If you can get past the fact that by 1984, Andrew Schofield was a very obvious 26-year-old playing the eponymous 16-year-old schoolboy, and that all his schoolmates were of a similar vintage too, then there was much to enjoy in ScullyOn initial inspection, Scully seemed like a much needed bout of light relief for writer Alan Bleasdale following his searing masterpiece Boys From The Blackstuff just two years earlier. Light relief for many of the cast too, who returned for fresh roles here. But there's a dark undercurrent that runs through Scully beneath the humourous japes, the rites of passage tropes and the commentary on teenage life. The lack of opportunities awaiting the likes of Scully in the impoverished and neglected Liverpool of Thatcher's Britain are often alluded to and seemingly embodied by the Scully's recurring vision of his idol Kenny Dalglish during his everyday life - is this seemingly funny and surreal Billy Liar-esque device actually an example of serious psychosis borne from his relationship with his environment? As the series progressed things turned darker and more serious, leading to an extended finale that sees Scully's dreams of one day playing for Liverpool in tatters. It's a world away from some of the amusing slapstick elsewhere in the series and is deeply emotionally affecting. But that's not to say that the show wasn't very funny too, providing an authentic and endearing depiction of working class teenage life that is probably just as relevant today as it was back in 1984.


And the series boasted a great theme tune too - Turning the Town Red - from Elvis Costello, who also plays Scully's train obsessed simpleton brother, Henry (pictured above). It played over the opening credits which saw Scully training with Liverpool FC, before pulling on the Number 7 shirt and running onto the Anfield pitch to the cries of 'There's only one Francis Scully!' from the Kop faithful.

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